Every man contains within himself the whole condition of humanity. — Zarah Valeska, from The Other Side of the Wind
This is the legendary unfinished film by Orson Welles that everyone has been waiting their lifetime for. Financial limitations, international politics, and ultimately legal battles kept Orson Welles from being able to finish his final masterpiece. That is what The Other Side of the Wind is.
What is happening now in film history is a rare delight, as the stories & myths behind this project have intrigued & tantalized film buffs for decades. Now the world gets to see the result, with everyone’s critical opinion coming in simultaneously, on a film whose creator is an acknowledged master, but has been dead for over 30 years. Every review and critique you read will be new, as basically no one has seen this film before now, except it’s creators and a few privileged others. Therefore, a correct interpretation of Orson Welles’ final cinematic effort is in order.
The Other Side of the Wind is most comparable to F for Fake (1973), an underrated & innovative masterpiece in itself. Orson Welles fans have differing opinions on what his best film was. The dogma of course is Citizen Kane (1941), as “the greatest movie ever.” Many Welles fans (including himself), insist Citizen Kane isn’t his best film. Some tout The Lady from Shanghai (1947), or one of his sublime Shakespeare adaptations, while others hold up Touch of Evil (1958).
None of them are wrong, as it really comes down to taste. For me, F for Fake is Orson Welles at his funniest and most incisive, with an amazing & true story to share. Welles examines Elmyr de Hory, the greatest art forger of the 20th century, as a platform to brilliantly expose corruption & hypocrisy in the world of art criticism & expertise authentication. There’s big money involved, and that’s the subject of first hour of this film, done in documentary style. The rest of the half-hour-or-so, is a surrealist fantasy featuring Oja Kodar, who is stunningly beautiful, playing with Picasso.
Oja Kodar was also Welles’ lover, although he was still married & never divorced. In F for Fake, Kodar is a creative partner, bringing an eroticism that had never existed in previous Orson Welles films. Oja Kodar is presented in mesmerizing style by Welles, in the credits at the beginning, and then featured at the end, through the lens of innovative cameraman Gary Graver. Kodar & Graver would be key collaborators on The Other Side of the Wind, which was being shot simultaneously with F for Fake, although it’s footage remained unreleased for decades, which denied Oja Kodar & Gary Graver the stardom & accolades they so richly deserved.
The star of The Other Side of the Wind is John Huston as Jake Hannaford, who is really playing the life of Orson Welles. Welles wrote the screenplay for the “documentary part,” while the “movie-within-a-movie” screenplay is credited to Oja Kodar, who is displayed in various forms of nudity, with intricate camera work by Gary Graver.
One can see that Welles had been influenced by French New Wave cinema, and also Andy Warhol in his use of lighting & cinematic style in these shots of Kodar. It’s a fine line between art & pornography, and The Other Side of the Wind goes right up to it, but doesn’t cross it. This is another Wellesian touch, and there are many in this film, which can now rightfully be called a classic.
A necessary introduction to this seemingly difficult film is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018). It’s directed by Morgan Neville, who fills in many of the blanks surrounding the controversy over this long-unfinished film, which has finally been released. It offers a fair & balanced portrait of Orson Welles and the conditions he faced in trying to get this movie finished.
In short, Welles was devastated that he couldn’t finish this film, as the footage was confiscated by French authorities, and locked inside a vault in Paris for years, until a legal settlement could be reached long after his death in 1985. Welles said it himself in a 1982 interview, that it was impossible for him to make a film, as no one would fund it. At that point it was the blockbuster era, and Orson Welles’ was then labeled passe’ by the latest version of Hollywood.
The casting in The Other Side of the Wind is brilliant, with the dialogue & editing razor sharp. Peter Bogdanovich steals every scene he’s in, even the ones he wasn’t in originally, as he replaced Rich Little who infamously walked-off Orson Welles’ set. The creative shooting & precise editing to squeeze Bogdanovich into crucial scenes (which had already been shot and couldn’t be redone), is masterfully accomplished by Graver & Welles.
Peter Bogdanovich by this time was a famous Hollywood director, with What’s Up Doc? (1972). Here we see his brilliance as an actor and creative force in The Other Side of the Wind. It was Peter Bogdanovich, along with Gary Graver & Oja Kodar who ultimately got this film finished. Film fans who value art, wholeheartedly appreciate the sacrifices of all those who selflessly labored for decades in getting this project done.
The Other Side of the Wind is now available for streaming on Netflix, along with the above-mentioned documentary. There are many quotable lines, but I only spoiled one, which is the introduction to this piece. In a sentence capsule review, the film’s themes are the betrayal of confidants & collaborators, mixed into the cynical world of wanna-be’s & insipid critics full of hate; all wrapped around the artistic beauty of Oja Kodar.
John Huston has a wonderful final line, then the credits roll for approximately four-and-a half minutes, until the underscore fades and the screen goes black with a few seconds remaining. At that point, Orson Welles in a fatigued voice, seemingly from the other side of the wind murmurs, “Cut,” and it’s finally over.